My son has lent me Hermann Hesse's "Steppenwolf." We don't have the same tastes in literature at all and he often lends me books he thinks I "ought to read" (Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" being the latest). So when he presented me with "Steppenwolf" I didn't exactly jump for joy. Then he told me that he found it "pretty hard going" so he thought I might enjoy it! (That's rich coming from someone who lists his favourite book as "Ulysees").
After our supper party was over last night and the guests had gone, we stacked the dishwasher, plumped up the cushions, walked the dog and then the farmer went off to bed. I like to wind down after a chatty evening, so I made myself a cup of tea and picked up Steppenwolf. I read the Preface - and so I am completely hooked.
How cleverly Hesse gives his readers just enough information in his preface to make the character of Harry Haller so fascinating that you are desperate to know more. I read the first thirty pages and then reluctantly put it down and went to bed.
Then I lay there thinking about the book. How much of it is lost in the translation? The question applies, of course, to all translated works. Surely to be a really good translator of poetry or the novel, the translator has literally to get into the psyche of the author. In this case the translator is Basil Creighton. I would go further and suggest that he has to get into the psyche of the German nation per se. And I suppose how well he does this is what makes his standing as a good translator.
Do we always lose something in translation? Say - the Germanness of Hesse, the Russianness of Tolstoy, the Frenchness of Voltaire? Would we ever be able to capture that anyway?
Has anyone out there read "Steppenwolf"? If so I would like to know what you think about it - bearing in mind my thoughts above.
It would be interesting to know what a translator thinks about it and how he/she sets about the task of translating. I have always envied people who were good at languages. I think bringing up a child as bi-lingual is a great gift to pass on. If you are born of mixed parentage then maybe you can get into the psyche of both nations much more easily.
Must go now and get the lunch - one of the perks of having a supper party is that there is usually enough food left for lunch the next day - more time to get on with the reading of "Steppenwolf" then!